Indiana Pacers Basketball: Why Danny Granger Should Be the Sixth Man
Well, sort of.
He's currently sidelined with a calf injury, but don't worry because this is not going to keep him out near as long as last season's knee injury did.
Soon, he will be back and head coach Frank Vogel will have a very tough decision to make. Does Granger return to the starting lineup, or does he come off the bench?
Granger has been the Pacers' go-to guy for most of his career. Before last year, he was the team's leading scorer for five consecutive seasons.
But without Granger, the Pacers' starting unit was impressive. Indiana's regular-season record was 49-32, good enough for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, and it finished just one win away from reaching the NBA Finals.
Indiana is definitely better with him, but he has to be used in the right way. Logic says he should return to his usual spot in the rotation, but perhaps bringing him off the bench is the way to go.
Vogel tipped his hand as to what he's thinking when he said Granger was on the verge of getting his spot back until the recent injury.
Respectfully, I disagree with his assessment.
Granger's certainly been an effective player, but he should be Indiana's sixth man this season and here's why.
Improvement of Lance Stephenson
Lance Stephenson, Granger's replacement in 2012-13, held his own in Granger's absence. His scoring (8.8 PPG) certainly wasn't on par with Granger's, but it improved throughout the season (11.3 PPG in April, 9.4 PPG in playoffs).
Stephenson may be smaller than Granger, but he is a tough, tenacious and hard-nosed defender who doesn't back down from any challenge, including LeBron James. At times during last year's Eastern Conference Finals, Stephenson guarded the world's best player for long stretches.
Vogel wouldn't give that assignment to Stephenson if he didn't trust his defense.
Stephenson also made an impact by crashing the glass. He pulled down 3.9 boards per game in the regular season, but in the playoffs, that number ballooned to a whopping 7.6.
Stephenson's play at the end of last year shows he is hitting his stride, while Granger may be in decline. Right now, Granger isn't the same player as two years ago. Stephenson will only continue to get better, and Vogel should play the hot hand and not stunt Stephenson's growth.
The old saying, "If it isn't broke, don't fix it" definitely applies to this situation. Last year's starting five of George Hill, Stephenson, Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert was arguably the best group in the NBA.
The Pacers' starters were ferocious rebounders. They were the NBA's second best rebounding lineup at 17.6 RPG.
Indiana was a masterful defensive squad in 2012-13, with the starters leading the way. The Pacers were first, or close to it, in every important defensive category.
Indiana ranked second in points allowed per game (90.7), first in defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions), first in opponent's field goal percentage (42 percent) and first in opponent's three-point percentage (32.7 percent).
Finally, the Pacers' starters ranked third in point differential (+4.4).
The numbers speak for themselves. This group paced Indiana in every way.
Why breakup such an effective unit?
The Bench Needs Scoring
Last year, Indiana was slowed by its bench. The second unit had a hard time putting up points, finishing 28th in the league in bench scoring, according to Hoopstats.com.
D.J. Augustin was a shadow of his former self. Gerald Green was so bad he eventually lost his spot in the rotation. Tyler Hansbrough was effective at times, but was usually out of control. Ian Mahinmi had a solid regular season, but did little in the playoffs.
Granger is the answer to Indiana's troubles. He's a proven scorer with career average of 18.1 PPG, and can give the bench the punch it has lacked.
It may take some getting used to, but for a player who's accustomed shooting the ball, this change is a perfect solution. The starters are kept together, and Granger is still a focal point of the offense, albeit in a different way.
This move should in no way be viewed as a demotion. This is a way for Indiana to take the next step.
The Pacers already have an elite starting unit. Granger as the sixth man could get this team into the NBA Finals.
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